Operation Restoration at the Spartanburg Expo Center

Giving health — and hope — to local veterans

Veterans have served their country in faraway places like Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, Italy and Korea. Unfortunately, many of them are now living in poverty, struggling to afford basic necessities. Some are even homeless.

In mid-October, local non-profit Operation Restoration hosted Upstate Stand Down – a one-day event that provided a free meal, clothing and other services to homeless veterans, such as free haircuts, showers at a nearby motel, blood pressure screenings and eye exams.

The event, which was sponsored by Spartanburg Regional Foundation, was held at the Spartanburg Expo Center and billed as “an opportunity to serve those who have served.”

“Spartanburg Regional Foundation values the sacrifices these men and women have made for our country,” said Kristy Caradori, executive director of Spartanburg Regional Foundation. “We are proud to support the health and wellness of our veterans.”

Prior to the event, Operation Restoration was awarded a $6,585 grant to fund veterans with eyeglasses and wheelchairs. This was one of 27 grants the foundation awarded to Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System departments and community non-profit organizations in 2016. These grants totaled $695,000.

“So many of these men and women who defended our freedom lack the support they need for strong overall health,” said Stacey Dulin, grants administrator for Regional Foundation. “I am thankful that the Spartanburg Regional Foundation Board of Trustees approved a grant to help provide for the needs of these veterans. Upstate Stand Down is an inspiring event and a wonderful cause.”

During Upstate Stand Down, staff from several departments of Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System conducted blood pressure screenings and risk assessments for diabetes, handed out care bags, and provided information on nutrition, heart health and other topics.

Other non-profit organizations and agencies supplied information on legal services, employment opportunities and social service benefits.

Stand down to give a hand up

In all, about 500 veterans attended Upstate Stand Down from 11 counties in South Carolina and from several counties in western North Carolina.

“Many are homeless or in transitional housing. This is all about people trying to help those in need – to give them a hand up,” said Frank Jackson, executive director of Upstate Stand Down.

Operation Restoration supports low-income and homeless residents of the Upstate. Service to veterans is a priority, Jackson said, and Upstate Stand Down is an important avenue for reaching those in financial distress. 

“We provide support day-to-day, but to bring all these organizations together under one roof at one time enables us to reach so many more people,” Jackson said.

In addition to the services provided for the veterans, Upstate Stand Down is a “good time for fellowship,” said Dennis Roby, a veteran and volunteer at the event.

Roby felt inspired to join the military during the Vietnam era, when he saw friends drafted and killed in combat. Instead of going to Vietnam, he served in the Navy and was stationed in Europe. He stayed in the Navy until 1993.

Roby’s volunteer work at the event is “my way of helping others in need,” and he enjoys the personal connections the participants make. “It helps reinforce the idea of being brothers in arms,” he said. “If you’ve been in the military, you’re like family.”

That’s how George Boone, who came from Polk County, NC, feels as well. A Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, he said he went years without wanting people to know that he’d served, as there was a stigma surrounding service in Vietnam.

He didn’t seek out others who shared his experience, but, “now I need them,” he said. Boone also said he “got some good stuff” at Upstate Stand Down and that he appreciates the efforts of volunteers and sponsors.